External Affairs

The Trials of Ahed Tamimi: Israel Set to Make an Example of 16-Year-Old Palestinian Girl

The resistance icon was arrested for slapping Israeli soldiers after her cousin was shot in the face with a rubber bullet.

Palestinian teen Ahed Tamimi (R) enters a military courtroom escorted by Israeli Prison Service personnel at Ofer Prison, near the West Bank city of Ramallah, January 1, 2018. Credit: Reuters/Ammar Awad

At the age of 16, Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi is in Israeli military custody. This is while her 14-year-old cousin Muhammad Tamimi lies comatose in a hospital in Ramallah after being shot in the face with a rubber bullet by soldiers during a protest.

Ahed, who was filmed punching and slapping soldiers in anger in her home village of Nabi Saleh in December 2017, faces years in prison. The Israeli military, which has illegally occupied the West Bank for 50 years, has filed 12 charges against her, including throwing stones, incitement and assaulting a soldier.

The military court has already indicted Ahed, who, being a veteran activist by having been at the forefront of protests in Nabi Saleh since she was a child, is a symbol of resistance against the occupation. This is why a conviction is more than likely – more so because Israel’s military tribunals are infamous for their conviction rate against Palestinians.

Ahed has now become one more Palestinian child currently in Israeli military custody. According to Defense for Children International-Palestine, that figure stands well above 300.

To make an already bad situation worse, a 17-year-old boy, Musab Firas al-Tamimi, another family member, has become the first to fall to Israeli bullets in 2018. A resident of neighbouring village, Deir Nitham, he was reportedly shot in the neck. According to Times of Israel, the Israeli army said Musab had “appeared to be holding a gun”, but that this was “not immediately confirmed”.

Revenge ‘in the dark’

In an interview, Ahed’s father Bassem Tamimi describes his daughter’s arrest during a night raid on the family’s occupied West Bank home.

During the raid, Ahed’s cousin Nour, who was also in the video which has set off this chain of events, as well as Ahed’s mother Nariman, were also detained. Nariman faces charges of “incitement” for live-streaming the incident and Nour, who has been released, has been charged with aggravated assault and interfering with a soldier’s duties.

What nudged the night raid into action, where the family was reportedly torn from their beds, were loud calls for revenge by Israeli ministers after the video was circulated widely. The Israeli media, too, joined the chorus, and nicknamed her “Shirley Temper” in reference to Ahed’s curly hair.

In fact, Ben Caspit, an Israeli journalist with Maariv newspaper and Al-Monitor, took it a step further when he was quoted by the Associated Press as saying: “In the case of the girls, we should exact a price at some other opportunity, in the dark, without witnesses and cameras.” He also applauded the soldiers in the video for not reacting to the teen’s slaps.

Caspian later said that his comments had been taken out of context, but in a piece in Maariv, he wrote that the “Tamimi family needs to learn the hard way that such systematic provocations against Israeli soldiers will cost them dearly”.

For her act of defiance, a senior member of the Israeli government has even called for Ahed to be incarcerated for life, which at this point, wouldn’t really come as much of a surprise considering how such episodes have played out historically.

A family history

The Tamimi family is well-known for its role in Nabi Saleh’s civil resistance against the Israeli occupation during which many have laid down their lives.

Bassem and Nariman have been at the forefront of the peaceful weekly protests in Nabi Saleh since 2009, and have been successful in broadcasting this to social media, much to the ire of hardline Israelis.

In 2012, Ahed’s father Bassem was declared to be a “prisoner of conscience” by Amnesty International after he was detained by the army for his persistent activism. Amnesty said that Bassem Tamimi was being detained by Israel “solely for his role in organising peaceful protests against the encroachment onto Palestinian lands by Israeli settlers”. Even the European Union designated him a “human rights defender”. Despite this, Bassem was denied a visa to speak in Australia.

Ahed’s aunt, Manal Tamimi, was arrested on December 28 while protesting near an Israeli military prison. This was caught on camera by another family member, Bilal Tamimi.

“Israel’s military occupation is in contrast to all that is just and humane, from the abuse of our children to the abuse of our land,” Bassem told Newsweek in a recent interview. “As parents, we try to shelter our children against the occupation and all its violence, inequality and lack of freedom, but there is only so much we can do to protect them.”

Lack of international outrage

Unlike Malala Yousafzai, who has a history of standing up to injustices, Ahed hasn’t gotten much attention or solidarity on social media. In fact, last year, Ahed was blocked from traveling to the US for a speaking tour meant to highlight the plight of the Palestinians.

Last month, President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, setting off widespread protests by Palestinians. This led to a consequent wave of nearly 600 arrests. The Palestine Red Crescent Society said that nearly 3,600 Palestinians were injured.

Despite this, the international community has not sat up and taken notice of Ahed. “There has been a curious lack of support for Ahed from Western feminist groups, human rights advocates and state officials who otherwise present themselves as the purveyors of human rights and champions of girls’ empowerment,” wrote gender researcher Shenila Khoja-Moolji for Al Jazeera.

“Malala was invited to meet then President Barack Obama, as well as the then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and addressed the UN General Assembly. She received numerous accolades from being named one of the 100 Most Influential People by Time magazine and Woman of the Year by Glamour magazine to being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013, and again in 2014 when she won. There is even a Malala Day!” she continues.

“But we see no #IamAhed or #StandUpForAhed campaigns making headlines. None of the usual feminist and rights groups or political figures has issued statements supporting her or reprimanding the Israeli state. No one has declared an Ahed Day.”

But despite the deafening silence, the Tamimi’s fight for justice will go on. “We will continue to resist as a family, and as a community. Together we carry the torch of freedom and equality towards our dream of a better life for our children,” Bassem told Newsweek.

Within Israel, however, there are voices demanding that she be released. ‘Israel must free Ahed Tamimi’, the liberal newspaper Ha’aretz wrote in an editorial.  The newspaper described this as a “requirement of equality”: After all, this is how the government acts with regard to extremist young settlers who sometimes act with greater violence, greater chutzpah and greater risk” to Israeli soldiers.

“Israel will pay a heavy price for its aggression against this girl who resists the occupation, who acted with minimal violence toward the representatives of the army who invaded her home and had earlier critically wounded her cousin,” Ha’aretz wrote. “Displaying sensitivity and understanding to these motives will earn Israel compliments, and justifiably so. Leaving Ahed Tamimi in jail for a long time will once again show the ugly face and violence of the Israeli occupation.”